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The Measure of Success

6th August 2014

In the few short weeks that ‘Small City, Big Personality’ has been running I have been lucky enough to sit and chat with some incredible people.  Some of them I already knew well, others I didn’t know at all and when you read Lady Miss Emma’s story this Friday you will discover that even the very public personas we think we know have extra layers and another story to tell.

As I explained in my first blog, I’m a lover of a great story and to sit listening to tales of Grand National races, slave plantations and commonwealth training regimes has been nothing short of amazing.  To then watch the little web counter go up and up daily, as people click on and read these tales that have been spun and join in on the wild ideas that have fallen out of my head is truly incredible.  

At the risk of sounding hideously cheesy, I feel as though I’m living the dream. To be fair, in the original version you were all reading my stories from a book,  curled up on a couch or lounging on a picnic blanket.  Who knew it would end up as tales of the city, staring at a mobile phone as you wait in the queue at the bank or from a tablet as you slurp on your morning coffee in the work’s canteen. I'll be honest, I don’t care – the fact that you are reading this and coming back for more has filled me with sheer, unadulterated joy.

There have been lots of factors that pulled me down this path but the biggest is a conversation I had with my son this time last year. Cain finished school at 18 years old with an impressive array of exam results and a handful of unconditional offers to study Chemistry at red brick universities in Scotland.  Unsurprisingly, he chose Strathclyde. The city of Glasgow was calling his name. His love of BMX street riding, live music and modern culture all wrapped up in a city that buzzes from morning until night is everything he wants and needs. He completed his first year and then, with only three days to go until he started his second, he called to tell me he’d made a terrible mistake. He wanted to study art.

There is a long story that follows this initial conversation but the short version is that he had a year out to ensure this was the right decision and last August joined the City of Glasgow College to study Art and Digital Design.

During the summer months leading up to this he had a very, very part time job and he was spending most of his time out cycling, filming, editing and making quite a noise on various BMX websites with his quirky, short films.  I eventually lost the rag.  I wanted to know why he was wasting his summer instead of asking for more hours in his job. Why wasn’t he working more and playing less, why was he intent on mucking around? Why!?

“I don’t think I am mucking round. I’ve learned loads this summer and taught myself stuff I could never have found the time to do if I was working full time. You’re the one who’s always told me to believe in myself and do what was right for me.   I won’t learn anything pulling pints. Mum, a successful summer isn’t just measured in wages and money in the bank. ”

To my detriment, he didn’t just inherit my bonny face. I should be so lucky. His razor sharp ability to spin a well thought out point has been gleaned from years of listening to his mother. But I was going to win this argument because my point was based on a good, solid work ethic.  You have to work as hard as possible to earn a decent living – it’s what everyone does.   

“Why? I don’t buy shoes or makeup or any of the other stuff you seem to need. I buy food. I just don’t need money like you do. What I need is to get up in the morning and do something that I enjoy and that I think will be good for me long-term. ”

Now, there are two things that happen when you have a conversation like this with your 20 year old child. The first is that you momentarily wish you hadn’t taught him quite so well to be a strong, individual thinker.  The second is that you will realise you have somehow lost your own free-spirited thinking and have succumbed to the expectation of society’s demands on you.  At what point did I come to think that my son pulling pints was better for him than honing his creative craft and building his passion?

It wasn’t that I disagreed with his choice to switch paths. I knew the minute he told me he wanted to leave his Chemistry course and do something with art or film that I would support him.  I knew I wanted my son to wake up every day and do a job that he loved.  And yet somehow his choices that summer became tangled up in my own 20 year old fear of having to work so that I could support us both and, being self-employed,  saying yes to everything in case one day it all dried up!

But when I looked at him, standing across from me that day, I knew he was right. Don’t get me wrong, some compromises were made (!) but I agreed, in principal, with his point. Money in the bank is not necessarily the best measure of time well spent or of success.  In fact, I was to discover just a few months later, when he asked me if I would hire him for some filming I needed for a client just how right he had been.  His creative mind and editing work is excellent.  He has now been paid by a number of people to produce short films for their businesses and rides as part of a small BMX team.  He’s still at college, with clear plans to specialise in film at university.  

Last night he attended a drinks reception at Edinburgh Castle as one of a handful of young people to have their work selected to be projected onto the side of said Castle during the Military Tattoo.  He was asked to do a telephone interview and called me up asking if I could write him a quote, enjoying every minute of referring to me as his PR Girl.  

Cain Martin

I have never in my life been so happy to be wrong.   And it’s not just that I was wrong, it’s that he was so, so right.  This boy who was always slightly maverick, who, from a very young age had a quiet, inner confidence that made him bold and fearless, is living a life where he is creative every day and it turns out he is bloody brilliant at it. 

The strange thing is, I was like him once. I wasn’t always driven by a need to do the “right thing”. When I was 24 years old I took myself and my then 3 year old toddler back to college to complete my unfinished degree.  People frowned. I had left a perfectly well-paid management job in Clarks because, although I was going to be skint, I knew it was the right thing to do for me and for us.   And yet, somewhere in the 18 years between that day and the day I lost my rag with my son, I had forgotten the freedom and determination that a life-affirming move like this will give you.  I may have taken calculated risks over the years but my drive was never again quite as pure as it had been at that moment.  The one when you are running on “passion” alone.

That said, I love my job and I consider myself very fortunate.  But I have spent two decades chipping away at the bits I dislike, exploring my “strengths and weaknesses” and ironing out this path I am now on.   After years of saying “yes” out of the aforementioned fear, my client list now consists only of people and businesses that I like and respect.  It’s a pretty cushty position to be in and I reckon if you wanted to measure my success, my time well spent, it would score high by anybody’s standards.

But it’s not other people’s standards you should live by is it? That was my boy’s point the day we had our almighty row and the one he will often make when I find myself worrying about his scruffy jeans and his lack of an obvious, traditional, structure.   You should find your own path and set your own demanding standards.  Anything else is wildly unfair – apparently my much younger self knew this without question or conscious realisation and I am grateful that I obviously passed that sense onto Cain. And not just because he has now been able to pass it back.

I will remind you of how I started this story. I am currently living my dream.  After years of preparing plans and strategies, I find myself sitting here typing tales about my city, and building this strange mix of hobby and business and passion. 

Cain SelfieMy faith in it is blind; I firmly believe that if it looks like it works and it feels like it works then the damn thing will, inevitably, work!  And although that may sound arrogant, I am actually humbled because I know this is a gift. That inexplicable youthful confidence that says, “Screw it. I’m doing it my way. And it will all come good simply because it’s exactly the right thing to do.” is a liberating, motivating and powerful force that people of my age seldom get to hold.

It is 18 years ago this month that I walked my beautiful three year old through the gates of the college nursery and told him we were about to have an adventure.   That same boy will be 21 years old on Saturday and I am thankful every day that his bright mind, bold self and free spirit has led me to “waste” some time and experience the joy of finding it well spent.  At exactly half my age, it turns out that this boy of mine is the only measure of success I need.  

Happy Birthday Cainboy.  

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